Finding your first job in engineering is a daunting prospect. You have to navigate a labyrinth of graduate schemes, internships, networking events and advice websites, potentially while taking exams or working in another field.
The good news? The need for new engineers isn’t going away! Even during the pandemic, discussions have turned to how the country will ‘build back better’, creating a greener economy. Much of that work will be underpinned by engineers – many of whom will be apprentices or graduates in their first job.
This year I started work for Burns and McDonnell in the Transmission and Distribution practice in Birmingham. We work to solve complex issues associated with ageing infrastructure and grid modernisation along with the mission to make our clients successful. This is often about developing and enhancing infrastructure that will help meet the Government’s target of zero emissions by 2050.
There’s no ‘right’ way into your first job in engineering. More often than not there will be some setbacks along the way. But here’s what I’ve learned on my journey from graduation to starting at Burns & McDonnell!
Lack of opportunities to gain experience
One of the challenges during my recruitment journey was that I had little work experience, and I found gaining experience just as hard and competitive as applying for jobs. So, I gained experience in other ways such as networking, events and webinars, which showed that I was being proactive. Work experience also does not have to be in the industry that you wish to pursue a career in - many jobs can help learn other skills such as communication that recruiters still look for.
Gaining Interview experience
Another challenge I faced was gaining interview experience as I had never done an interview before graduating. Throughout my recruitment journey I continually built up my experience and although I started off feeling like my interviews didn’t go very well, I made sure I never made the same mistakes again and always tried to improve.
The coronavirus pandemic has also had an impact upon the availability of jobs, increasing competition in an already competitive industry. This can be challenging to anyone applying to jobs right now - but my advice would be to continue being proactive and persevere.
Tips for finding job advertisements and roles
Use a range of recruitment websites
There are a lot of good recruitment websites out there, so use a range to maximise your chances of finding the right role. Also remember that companies may only advertise on certain websites, so opportunities could be missed if you don’t check a handful. The best websites I used included LinkedIn, Gradcracker and Indeed.
Events, Conferences and webinars
If possible, attend events, conferences, and webinars. Although these are not direct ways to apply for jobs, they are a good way to find out more about the industry, companies and the different roles available. You may also find job roles and industries you haven’t previously considered!
Research companies of choice
I would really recommend researching the companies you want to work for to find out about what they do and their roles. As I found out, different companies will sometimes use different job titles for very similar roles – it’s important to know what each of them entails. Without the extra research, opportunities can be missed simply because the job title is different to what you may expect it to be.
Keep your networking platforms updated
Keep networking platforms such as LinkedIn updated to ensure that you aren’t overlooked by recruiters due to experience that may missing from your profile. Platform algorithms will also display the most relevant job suggestions for you if your profile is kept up to date.
Tips for the application process
Research companies’ recruiting timescales
Many companies start advertising roles a year in advance, so make sure you understand the timeframes involved before applying. I found that when I was first applying for jobs, many of those on offer were for the following year!
Make every application specific
To ensure that my applications were specific to each role and company, I included a paragraph in every cover letter I submitted about why I would like to work for the company and some of their projects that I found interesting. Research on each company and role comes in useful again here. You should also adapt your CV to highlight the most relevant information for each new role.
It’s important to make your application stand out from others and that you make sure that all required and relevant information is included before submitting. Remember that cover letters, CVs and questions may be separated for different recruiters to check, so try to include as much information on each section and don’t worry too much about repeating information.
Well-presented CV & covering letter
Making sure your CV and covering letter are well presented and easy for the recruiter to read is also important. This is the very first impression recruiters will get of you, so both your CV and letter must present you well and professionally, and the format should help them quickly pick out all the key information about you. For example, on my CV I would put key words or phrases such as achievements or the names of companies I had done work experience for in bold and a slightly different colour.
Tips for assessment centre & Interviews
Find areas of the company where your interests lie
I found this to be a useful talking point in interviews, especially if I was asked why I would like to work for the company (which is a common interview question). I would already have an example of why I was interested in the company ready. Finding a specific project that the company has worked on will also help to make you stand out from other candidates who may just know an overall background.
Another tip I learnt from interviews was to prepare questions that I could ask the interviewers to find out more about the company, what the role would entail and what it’s really like to work for the company as they will often give you far better answers than anything you can find online. Asking questions also shows you have taken a genuine interest and are keen to learn.
Prepare answers to common interview questions
I also learnt to prepare answers to common interview questions such as what my strengths and weaknesses are, or situational awareness questions. Having some key answers ready helped me to be more confident interviews.
Ask for feedback
My final tip would be to ask for feedback after every interview and assessment centre to help keep improving your interview technique and understand what key areas to focus on for next time. Even if you’re unsuccessful, interviews are valuable exercises which help you learn and improve!